Nothing transforms like gratitude. Living with a grateful heart improves the health of your body, improves your mood, sleep, income and even radically improves your sex life. In fact, you can spot a person with a grateful heart from a mile away. They are simply a joy to be around.
So why don’t we all live with overflowing gratitude?
Our brains undermine us. Our brains are wired to detect threats and, without training, focus on negative and threatening things five times more efficiently than the positive things that would trigger gratitude. So cultivating a grateful heart takes intentionality and skill.
So, how do the masters of gratitude do it? I specifically ask uber-happy clients and friends how they practice gratitude. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- They write it down. Shannon, a contagiously grateful person at my church, keeps a notebook next to her bed and does not get out of bed until she names 3 things she is grateful for that day.
- They focus on relationships. Stan Tatkin, a relationship therapist, focuses his daily gratitude practice on the loving relationships in his life with family, friends and clients.
- They keep it fresh. Happiness researcher Shawn Achor recommends that we need novelty in our daily gratitude inventory. In other words, you can’t use yesterday’s list if you want fresh cognitive benefits today.
- They talk about it. Bob Hoey is a local pastor who often asks people what they are grateful for. He has taught me how much this can energize a party. In fact, if you want to transform your Thanksgiving day table conversation, ask people during your pre-meal conversation, “and so what are you grateful for this year?”
- Meditate on death. Jack Kornfield is a meditation teacher in California who taught me the benefits of meditating on our own death. Here’s how I learned to do it: I imagine that I die. I get cold. They put me in a casket and people look at me one last time. (I pause and imagine what they say.) Then I get buried and life goes on without me. I know it sounds morbid, but I let myself feel it. I then reflect on who and what I will miss the most. I am often surprised that the things I would miss the most are simple and right under my nose, like hugs and smiles and good coffee.
So, as we head for the Thanksgiving holiday, let’s make this a week to intentionally and skillfully cultivate a grateful heart.